Teresa Preker, Konspiracyjna Rada Pomocy Żydom w Warszawie 1942-1945 [Underground Relief Council for Jews in Warsaw 1942-1945]

Three chapters translated into English
Copyright Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation 2002-2003
(transferred from the Batory Foundation in Warsaw)

About the Author

Teresa Preker, the author of the book on ZEGOTA and other texts, also published in English (among others, in: Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust, New York-London 1980, The Jews in Poland, Basic Blackwell, 1986, My Brother's Keeper, Routledge, 1990, Polin, article The Jewish Underground and the Polish Underground, London 1996), was a historian specializing in Polish-Jewish relations. Her publication is devoted to the Underground Relief Council for Jews, the only body of this kind in occupied Europe. Established in September 1942, it grouped Poles and Jews from different underground groups holding diverse political views and representing various sections of society. Teresa Preker's book is the only comprehensive and in-depth monographic study of this remarkable body and its activities in Nazi-occupied Poland. We feel that the book should be made available in English, believing it would go at least some way toward resolving the sensitive problems that continue to arise in public discussion. The author has written a new version of the introductory chapter.

Teresa Preker died on May 19, 1998. Commemorative articles and obituaries published by individuals and institutions who had known and worked with Teresa Preker (among others, Jewish Historical Institute Association, The Association of Jewish War Veterans and Victims of Prosecutions during World War II, Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland, Association of Hidden Children of Holocaust in Poland) testify to the profound respect she enjoyed personally and as a scholar.


Polish-Jewish Relations Before September 1939

"We are helpless vis-a-vis German criminals. We cannot defend ourselves and no-one in Poland is in a position to defend us. Poland's underground authorities can save some of us but not the multitude. [...] The fate of 3 million Polish Jews is sealed." These words give a precise outline of the situation of Jews in occupied Poland. This is what in October 1942, Leon Feiner, distinguished representative of Bund and of the Presidium of the Relief Council for Jews, told Jan Karski, courier of the AK Home Army and of the representation of the government-in-exile (Delegatura), before his departure for London. One could hide hundreds, even thousands of Jews wanted by the Nazis, but no more than that.

There were many objective and subjective reasons, often bound up with the past, why it was so difficult for Poles to hide Jews, to come to their help at the risk of Poles' own life. "Jewish life and the place of Jews in Polish society was rather different from what it was in Western Europe. From the French Revolution onward, Jews throughout Western Europe pressed for equal rights as individuals and confined expressions of their Jewishness to the religious sphere. In contrast, most Jews in independent Poland between the wars insisted on their recognition as a people, with the rights of a national minority. The Jews wanted to be recognized as a community - part of and apart from other elements in Polish society," Israel Gutman explains.

This Jewish position was influenced by their impressive number. By making up as much as nearly 10 per cent of the country's population, they clustered primarily in cities where they constituted an average of about 35 per cent (but sometimes as much as 80 per cent) of the residents.

Being good organizers, in circumstances that were - despite all hurdles - favourable, they set up a network of their own schools of every level, with Yiddish or Hebrew as the language of instruction. As for many of them Yiddish was the language they spoke at home, a considerable number of Jews spoke bad Polish, with a specific accent, while a lot of, particularly the older, people did not speak Polish at all. That made the Polish-Jewish cohabitation very difficult because, as the French historian Marc Bloch says, a difference of language strengthens the feeling of not belonging to the same environment, which feeling itself is a source of antagonisms.

Work together did not quench that feeling. Jews were suffering a "psychosis of self-reliance [...] They did not take kindly to blue-collar workers among themselves." Fifty-seven point seven per cent of the Jewish population were self-employed people who did not hire any workers, while 6.7 per cent did hire hands (mostly other Jews to work in small retail or artisan shops). As Jews formed large communities, a large proportion of those shops' customers were Jews, too. On the other hand, because of the Jewish celebration of Saturday, which was a workday at that time, bigger Polish but also Jewish businesses were unwilling to hire Jews.

Jews showed enterprise in other areas as well: they opened their own orphanages, hospitals and very dynamic self-help groups, they founded their own trade unions, published numerous papers, had their own theatres, bands, choirs and sports clubs. The elite of Polish Jews distinguished themselves by the high level of their culture, literary output and scientific life. They formed a centre important to the whole of The Diaspora.

The overwhelming majority of Jews were very much devoted to their ancient religion and tradition. All-powerful dictates of religion and tradition ruled their life and behaviour. More often than not this applied to the traditional garb as well. Of late, however, political ideas spread by activists and their press began to motivate increasingly wide circles of the Jewish youth.

The strong sense of national and religious ties caused that Jews bore a grudge against those among themselves who tried to go native. As a rule, their split from the Jewish community was treated as treachery.

The activities of Jewish political parties were obviously concentrated on the problems of their own national group. Their representatives - members of Zionist groups and of the Orthodox-Conservative Agudas Isroel - in the Polish parliament, too, usually confined themselves to supporting the interests of their own national minority.

A vast majority of Jewish political parties had no contact with Polish parties whatsoever. Certain Leftist Zionist groups and Bund, who sometimes undertook joint actions with the Polish Socialist Party, were the only exceptions. On the other hand, Jewish Communists did not form a group of their own but belonged to the Communist Party of Poland. They were quite largely represented in various Party organizations, Party leadership included.

Their rich social and political life indicated the perseverance of the Jews in the effort to preserve their national identity, their vigour and activeness. Yet, Poles usually assessed the activities of the Jews negatively. Jews were charged with building "[u]n Estat dans l'Estat", of giving priority to the interests of their own group and of The Diaspora over those of Poland. That was a serious charge in the situation where Poles were still in a state of euphoria after they recovered their own statehood after 125 years of partitions. Poles had their reservations about Polish Jews laying claims to much greater rights in this country than in Western Europe. Rich Jewish financiers were suspected of conspiring with international Jewish capital, and the Jewish poor - of plotting a Soviet-like revolution (hence the common term "Jewish-communism").

All this plus the xenophobia of the Poles produced the situation where the attitude towards Jews was generally hostile. Jews had more enemies than friends in Poland. National Christian parties, particularly the National Party and two extremist factions derived from the ONR National Radical Camp, took advantage of such state of Polish minds. Those nationalist parties introduced "fight against Jewry" into their programmes and propagated their views widely. They were out for brawls at universities, demanding the reduction of the Jewish enrolment to 10 per cent or to their actual percentage of the country's population, i.e. the introduction of the so-called numerus clausus (the percentage of the Jews at Polish universities at the time was much higher, especially in the faculties of law and medicine). The nationalists demanded separate desks for Jewish students, made it difficult for them to take exams, and often struck at them. Initially, university authorities (and many professors) put a sharp resistance to such demands, later however, some of them yielded to the nationalist terror and did impose the numerus clausus.

Small towns were another area of nationalist activities. Nationalists persuaded residents that Jews were taking away a chance of good earnings from them, particularly in trade, that Jews were cheating and exploiting them. Nationalists also incited the gentile population to boycott and even destroy Jewish shops. They often achieved their purpose: Jews were indeed attacked in the street, their houses were broken into and their property demolished. Jewish self-defence (especially with the use of arms) led to bloodshed (the most notorious at Przytyk in 1936 during which one Pole and two Jews died). It is estimated that during the greatest wave of anti-Jewish events, in the years 1935--1937, about 2,000 Jews were beaten and wounded while 14 were killed. More than ten Poles died on those occasions.

The two ONR factions, although relatively small and officially dissolved by the government, were very noisy and demagogic. They wanted to provoke Jews to emigrate in great numbers. Nonetheless, neither they nor any other party insisted on the exile of Jews.

The attitude of other Polish political parties was not so remarkably hostile towards Jews, all the same many members of those parties believed the situation would not have been that difficult had the number of Jews in Poland been smaller. That was the opinion, for example, of the Peasant Party, Poland's largest. Peasants did not frown on Jewish competition, therefore nationalists could not stir them to excesses. All the same, peasants, more than town dwellers, were distrustful of anything "alien." Peasants were also submissive to the clergy. The latter, for their part, sympathized with nationalist parties (even if for nothing else than their Catholicism), and treated as continually valid the words said by the Jews demanding the death of Jesus, "His blood be on us, and on our children." The stance of the priests had an effect on the peasant population.

The only party to have strongly opposed any violence, to have sided with Jews and to have demanded equal rights for them not only formally but also in fact was the Polish Socialist Party (PPS). Together with Bund and Poale Zion, they organized, for example, squads to defend Jews against attacks. The Democratic Alliance (SD), with its primarily intelligentsia membership, did not show any traces of anti-Semitism, either.

At the beginning, the "sanacja" ruling group adhered to the tradition of tolerance adopted by Józef Piłsudski, the head of state until 1935; later however it accepted many of the theses of the nationalists. Jews, even if Polonized for long, were not admitted to higher state administration positions, and certain careers were inaccessible to them altogether. Those restrictions imposed on Jews going native were a product of society's usually hostile and suspicious attitude towards them. The assimilated Jews were reproached with their origin and heckled. This way, rejected by their old community, they did not succeed in finding a new one.

Polish population's prejudice against Jews was not an unrequited feeling as Jews were not well-disposed towards Poles, either. Ill-will inevitably produced ill-will, while discrimination aroused resistance. These notwithstanding, differences of culture and customs made Jews, too, see Poles as "alien." However, this feeling in Jews was not as strong as in Poles as certain groups of Jews did have some general idea of Polish culture. Those groups included particularly those people who went to school in the two interwar decades, because at that time Jewish school students were obliged to have some, even if feeble, idea of Polish history and literature. Polish children, on the other hand, never heard, for instance, the names of outstanding Jewish writers.

The feeling of alienation caused that the two peoples, not showing any interest in each other in their everyday life, did not even try to understand each other's views and motivations. Whatever they did not understand, they disapproved of.

This way, these two nations lived not with each other but by each other. The reasons of such state of affairs can be found in the already mentioned behaviour of both Jews as well as Poles. The Polish side, by being much more numerous and having power and also by aggravating the situation by its aggressiveness, played the decisive role in sustaining this division. The large group of Polish anti-Semites bore particular blame for that.

But all those adversities did not settle Polish-Jewish relations in general. Where there came to direct contacts (such as between the dealer and the buyer, the doctor and the patient or among school friends), bias and stereotypes gave way to peaceful co-existence.

Such, in short, were the relations between Jews and Poles on the outbreak of World War II.

Occupation of Poland and Polish-Jewish Relations in the Years 1939-1942

When there is mention of the Relief Council for Jews, one sometimes hears a question, Why did it come into existence so late, as late as in mid-1942, by which time the Nazis had managed to exterminate about a half of Poland's Jews?

As to the majority of historical events, to this one, too, there is not one exhaustive and all-explaining answer. First and foremost, one must see the events through the prism of the time they were taking place. It is very difficult for the postwar generation to do. Everybody first learns that there was The Holocaust during which nearly 6 million European Jews were killed, majority of them on the Polish territory. The realization of this fact is overpowering. What happened before that seems to be a mere preparation for the final tragedy.

People living at the time did not realize that. Neither Poles nor Jews could envisage what was to occur in the years 1941-1944. They were absorbed in the current day which was bad enough for both peoples.

The German reign of terror began already during the military operations. Initially it affected Poles and Jews to more or less the same degree. In the towns they occupied, Germans shot a huge number of hostages, both Poles and Jews. By the hands of Germans died priests and rabbis, political activists and teachers. Germans started to ship Polish youth as forced labourers to Germany (between October 1939 and the end of 1942, approximately 75,000 people were transported out of Warsaw alone), and Jews - to labour camps where some of them died of exhaustion and disease. All schools, from primary schools through universities, were closed down (Poles were soon allowed to open primary schools). All political, cultural and social organizations were banned (save a few charity organizations). The press, publishers, museums and theatres (except several lowest-standard variety shows) were shut up. People were deprived of their radio receivers, meanwhile listening to the radio was liable to the death penalty. Curfew was in force throughout the war. All larger enterprises were taken over by the German authorities. By 1941, compared to the prewar period, wages rose only 1.5 times while the cost of living skyrocketed 12 times (by the end of the occupation, 70 times while, for example in France, only 6 times). The intelligentsia remained out of work most of the time. The restrictions imposed on the entire country as well as extremely difficult economic conditions caused that the occupation in Poland was much more arduous than in western Europe, and that it considerably restricted the population's freedom of action.

Jews came under extra orders which made their fate much more cruel. Already in 1939 they were ordered to wear the star-of-David sign. They were ousted from work in institutions and enterprises while the ban on the free command over one's money made any economic activity impossible. The last measure taken by Germans was the establishment of ghettos.

That was a shock to Poles, as well. But at the beginning, both Poles and Jews treated this decision as a mere separation of two groups of population. People fathomed that life behind the walls would be hard, but not that it would enfeeble those confined within the walls. People believed that situation to be a transient one, that the war would end in half a year, maybe a year, and then everything would return to normal. Poles felt more indignant at Germans' savagery, at their barbaric return to the Dark Ages as concerned ghettos, than they sympathized with Jews. It was usually the people who before the war had had some personal contacts with Jews who showed understanding for their plight.

The ghetto walls played another role, as well. The walls and the different tactics used by Germans towards Jews and Poles exacerbated the divisions between them. They did not put up a joint opposition to the common enemy, which could lessen the still rabid anti-Semitism.

The desperate situation of the Jewish population did not emerge overnight. It grew worse gradually, which made people get gradually accustomed to it. People worried less and less about the distress of the others. Even Jews enclosed within ghettos sank into stupor and just passed corpses lying in the street by, engrossed in their own problems. A myriad of Jewish diaries show that. A considerable number of Poles, who did not witness the distressing ghetto scenes and who could not quite believe them, thus got hardened to the ever more ominous news arriving from ghettos. With the same dwindling agitation they reacted to the disappearance of their own people.

In those circumstances, the initial help Poles offered to Jews was not great. It was individuals - relatives, friends, colleagues (e.g. doctors, lawyers), fellow-workers or members of the same party, who came to Jews' relief.

There were forbidding phenomena occurring at the same time. There were legion of people to take advantage of Jews' predicament and to buy dirt-cheap anything they could not carry with them to ghetto, and to take into "custody" Jewish goods those profiteers were not going to return. Another group, people who watched for ghetto fugitives in order to blackmail and fleece them of all they had (the so-called szmalcownicy) were sheer criminals.

German attack against Russia in mid-1941 resulted in making the situation of Jews much more awful. From the eastern territories of the prewar Poland, now seized by Germans, to the centre of the country, the news about mass executions spread from mouth to mouth. Even though either Poles or Jews could not for long believe it, they were nevertheless filled with apprehension. This way, when in autumn 1941 the underground press confirmed that news, the "ground was cleared" and public responsiveness-dulled.

At the same time, all country received the news abut the cordial welcome Jews accorded to the Red Army occupying Poland's eastern territories, and about the Jews' subsequent fervent collaboration with the Soviet administration, the machinery of repression included. The rejoicing at the Soviet arrival was in part the rejoicing at the evading of the German occupation. But at the same time Jews often revealed their malice towards the fallen Polish state, and the desire to take revenge on Poles, "who were so great yesterday, and today they are so small," for their prewar anti-Semitism.

The news was true, it referred however to some Jews only (although in some areas, admittedly, quite many). In a later period, that Jewish attraction to the Soviet authorities diminished as the latter abolished all Jewish social and political organizations as well as expelled a large number of Jews up-country.

The information spread among the Poles, exposed particularly the reports on greetings and collaboration. Anti-Semites heightened those reports as they corroborated their own opinion about Jews' hostile feeling towards Poland. Also, such reports absolved the idle Poles from failing to come to Jews' relief. "If they could cooperate with our enemies in the east, why should we risk our life for them here?," was the reasoning of anti-Semites.

The risk of life was by no means a superficial excuse. Governor-general Hans Frank ordered that any help to a Jew would be punished by death. Frank's order was promptly put into effect.

Although incomparable with the situation of Jews, the terror among Poles was steadily rising, too. Following the mass arrests in Warsaw and numerous executions in the suburban Palmiry in 1940, in the next year transports to Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck increased, while the nearby Sękocin and Kabaty woods became the places of execution of hundreds of people. Gaols were overcrowded, people were tortured to death or shot dead without a due court trial.

Such terror not only fanned hatred of the army of occupation but also imbued people with the feeling of helplessness. The great, very well-equipped western armies, and since 1941 the armed forces of the Soviet giant, too, were unable to resist the German onslaught. Compared to the Allies, what chance, if any at all, could Poles stand, who were moreover poorly armed and under continuous surveillance?

Such moods were opposed by the Polish underground resistance movement which began to take shape immediately after the defeat in 1939. The ZWZ Union for Armed Struggle came into being first, already in autumn. In 1942 it became the Home Army (AK). Small political or political-and-military organizations were mushrooming, yet they were quickly exposed and annihilated by Germans. The ZWZ/AK operations, however, soon embraced all Polish territories, establishing an efficient organization. In 1940, the ZWZ/AK numbered 40,000 officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers (in 1944 - over and above 300,000). The Union's tasks included propaganda, cadre training and the preparation of a general uprising which was to coincide with the advance of the Allied forces to the country's borders. Also, the ZWZ/AK tried to absorb all military organizations established by political groupings, and to build up a uniform underground army. To merge all those organizations took much time (until 1944), and tactical and coordinating effort. A part of the Peasant Battalions (subordinated to the Peasant Party) and the National Armed Forces remained independent of the AK to the end.

Dominant prewar parties, such as the National Party and the National Radical Camp (which formed two groups: the Confederation of Nation and the Entrenchment), the Polish Socialist Party (under the cryptonym of the WRN Liberty, Equality, Independence), the Peasant Party (SL) and the Labour Party, resumed their activities to play the leading role in the political life of the underground. These parties saw the postwar future as a total return to the relations and problems as they were before 1939. They therefore followed their respective old line. Thus, despite of the tragically different situation, the Confederation of Nation and the Entrenchment were spreading anti-Jewish propaganda, blaming Jews for everything that led to the historical disaster, "They are responsible for the war. For the fall of the nation. For the Freemasonry, Communism, the disintegration of the intelligentsia and poverty of the masses." In the Entrenchment's programme pamphlet Przyszła Polska - państwem narodowym [The Future Poland - a National State], its author, "L. Podolski," i.e. Karol Stojanowski, argued that the emigration of Jews "is almost as crucial to the future of our nation as the regaining of independent statehood. Both the loss of independence as well as the remaining of Jews in Poland threatens Poles with a slow death."

Other groups, Socialists in particular, strongly opposed anti-Jewish, nationalist publications. In April 1941, the WRN wrote, "The pamphlet [Przyszła Polska - państwem narodowym--T.P.] seems to be something hideous in the circumstances we have been living in. Messrs. Podolskis announce the struggle against citizens of another nationality." The WRN stated it explicitly that in the Polish underground movement there could be no room for this kind of propaganda.

The sympathetic interest in the situation of Jews shown by other, Leftist, groupings and by Biuletyn Informacyjny, the organ of the ZWZ/AK, counterweighed that nationalist propaganda. There is no doubt, however, that the aggressive, nationalist writing had an ill effect on the attitude of a part of Polish society whose posture towards Jews had been slightly better in reaction to the persecution of that minority.

But even the most extremist groupings found there was no question of any collaboration with the occupation authorities in this regard. In May 1944 they could state in the Myśl Polska, a periodical they published in London, "In all [occupied] countries in Europe, [Germans] found political groups to set their hand to the extermination of Jews, only in Poland there was not and there is not such a group."

Neither did the Catholic Church change its prewar attitude to Jews. To be sure, there was quite a number of monasteries which harboured Jewish children, there were priests who were helping those in hiding. The priests at large however, particularly in the provinces, persisted in reminding their flock that Jews had crucified Jesus, and in instilling in them the belief in Jewish ritual murders prey to which Christian children fell. Neither did the priests encourage their parishioners to help; on the contrary, they warned the faithful off and discouraged them from succouring Jews.

The position of the Polish emigre government in France (which moved to London, then), regarding national minorities in general, was clear. From the beginning of the occupation, the declarations of government-in-exile representatives assured minorities that in the future, reborn Poland they would enjoy full national development and protection of the law.

Inasmuch however as the majority of underground formations were set up early, their evolution into a uniform machinery, the division of labour and mutual subordination had taken a long time before they finally took shape. The relevant decisions were the prerogative of the government-in-exile, but its own opinions basically differed from those held by "the country," i.e. the ZWZ/AK and political parties (the latter had their counterparts in London). "The country" insisted on the formation by the ZWZ/AK of the exclusive, nationwide military-political-administrative structure, while the government demanded the separation of civilian (superior) and military powers. The government wanted the civilian organization to represent it at home.

For long the situation was all the more complex that there was not one concept what that London representation should be like. One day it was "the country," the other the government who put forward new proposals and demands. First dealt with was the possibility that the representation would consist of delegates of one of the existing socio-political organizations, next, that it would be formed by delegates of the larger parties (the so-called joint representation). Then, despite the objections of "the country," the government resolved to appoint three separate representations: for the central territories, i.e. those of the General Gouvernement (GG) set up by Germans, for the western territories, annexed to Germany, and for those occupied by the Soviets. It was only in 1942 that ultimately the concept of one representative (delegat) prevailed. Controversies arose moreover about many detailed issues, which caused frictions between the strong ZWZ/AK and for long the weak Delegatura representation, and also between opposing parties. Representatives of the latter made up an influential PKP Political Understanding Committee, recognized as the representation of the people, as the substitute for parliament. The Committee advised, first, the ZWZ/AK Headquarters, and, from 1942, the Government Representative.

Appointments policy was another matter in dispute. When at the end of 1940 the Government appointed the Labour Party-connected Cyryl Ratajski its first delegate (to the GG alone), while the PKP wanted to have an SL representative in this post, the PPS/WRN put a boycott on Ratajski.

It is only the year 1942 that can be recognized as the one when the underground movement in Poland took root and grew stronger. In that year, too, the London-based government spent considerably more money on "the country," on the Government Representation in particular. Inasmuch as, for example in 1941/42 civilian and political organizations received a mere DM 900,000 (which was very little considering the need to establish the Representation's machinery, communication with London, etc.), in 1942/43 the sum of the transfer increased to DM 3 million and U.S.$ 3 million. That made it possible to carry on with organizational and administrative operations, but also to undertake, for instance, more intensive welfare activities, including relief for Jews.

At this point one should add that any earlier relief for ghettos was virtually impossible. It would require not only huge sums of money which the Government representation did not have, but also throwing transports of food across the ghetto walls. All sorts of smugglers bribed the German police to throw food across the walls, yet that was not the method to be used by the Polish underground. Jews understood that. Neither Emanuel Ringelblum in his Kronika getta warszawskiego nor any other diarist had any reservations about Polish underground's behaviour in this respect. The only thing the underground movement could do was to help those ghetto runaways who found themselves within the sphere of underground activities.


translated by Maria Chmielewska-Szlajferowa

Teresa Preker

Konspiracyjna Rada Pomocy Żydom w Warszawie 1942 - 1945
[Underground Relief Council for Jews in Warsaw 1942-1945]


People Entrusted to the Care of the Relief Council for Jews (RPŻ)

Both alliances and parties who belonged to the Council and delegated their old activists, collaborators or their own people in general, as well as organizations engaged in aiding Jews in their own capacity, had a say on the selection of the Council's charges. Those organizations relieved the RPŻ of care about the people already on the relief fund or on other forms of aid.

Those to provide most generous aid to their fellow-citizens were the Jewish organizations who collected funds from their head offices abroad. More often than not the scopes of activities of the RPŻ, the ŻKN Jewish National Committee and Bund coincided if not overlapped.

Initially the boundaries of their activities were more distinct. Jewish organizations assisted their own members, their own "activists" primarily. In the report Bund wrote to London on 15 November 1943, it communicated it was going to allocate the funds raised so far "to the keeping of several hundred comrades, their families, flats, to supplies of clothes, underwear, footwear, medicines, shelters (if necessary), to the redeeming of prisoners, and to the paying of extortion money." In its own report from the same day, ŻKN, too, admitted that out of the sum of 3 million złoty spent on charity between January and September 1943, nearly a half, i.e. 1.3 million złoty, went to members of ŻKN's own organizations.

When however the ŻKN was distributing the Council's funds, it allocated money to unassociated Jewish population. In the letter dated 16 June 1943, Feiner wrote:

"Members of our group have not and do not avail themselves of the Council's funds set aside for our charges. The sums the Council disburses to me personally are distributed solely among people who do not belong to our group."

Later however, even when distributing the Bund money, both Berman and Feiner stopped supporting members of their parties so earnestly. Maybe that was due to larger funds available and, maybe, because of the intentions of the grantors (who perceived the ŻKN and Bund leaderships not merely as representatives of definite political orientations but as the only existing Jewish underground organizations through whom they could reach all those in hiding). In memos from 1944, both groups emphasized (which they had not done before) aid given to unassociated persons. And thus, in March 1944 Bund advised the Government Plenipotentiary that it had provided for "about 2,000 charges (people who do not at all belong to our organization)," and the ŻKN, in its report to London, dated 24 May 1944, stated that members of the political parties organized in the Committee received only 15 per cent of the disbursed sums.

From the beginning, the problem of party membership or organizational ties of the Council's charges was of no consequence at all: the Council helped all those who managed to get in contact with it and who were most in need. The Council did not ask anyone of his/her political preferences.

Another line followed by the Jewish organizations--which they initially wanted to prompt to the Council, too--was that of saving, above all, "valuable representatives of public life and of the worlds of culture, science and art." Representatives of Bund and the ŻKN pursued that line at numerous Council meetings. There has remained the relevant letter from the Coordination Commission to the RPŻ, dated 8 February 1943. It reads:

"One should [...] raise that matter that a number of exemplary public activists, men of letters, etc. have been all that time living in the ghetto. [...] We deem it our and your duty to save from the Holocaust first of all social and political activists [...] One should realize the virtues of this group of people who represent the most valuable and noble succession of the Jewish centre in Warsaw."

Initially, the Council came in this regard under the influence of the Jewish organizations, but later it returned to the TKPŻ's conception of heeding just the needs of its charges, not their social position.

At the beginning there was a certain territorial "division of labour" between the Council and the Jewish organizations. The ŻKN and Bund concentrated rather on work within the ghettos' limits, on obtaining the release of individuals and groups of people therefrom, and on activities in the provinces, including attempts to reach concentration camps. The Council, for its part, looked, first and foremost, after Jewish refugees in the "Aryan" parts of towns.

In time, as Germans were liquidating ghettos and small Jewish centres in the provinces, the areas of the Coordinating Commission's and of the Council's activities overlapped each other increasingly. Talking to the Council's Rek and Berman on 28 October 1943, the Government Plenipotentiary "recommended marking more distinct boundaries of their sheltering operations in order to normalize relations between them and to avoid sparing the same money twice." That was however a request very hard to fulfil.

Acting on the assumptions put forward above, the Council took care of dependents representing different social and political circles. Some of those people had been led out of the ghetto by the ŻKN or Bund, and confided directly to the Council's care. The majority, however, had managed to escape on their own, and then, finding themselves on the "Aryan" side and seeking financial or legalization assistance, found their way to the AK Home Army cells or to political parties associated with the London camp. From those, the track--although not always fast and direct--led to the representation of the government-in-exile or directly to the Council. Council workers who learnt about other refugees when visiting provinces, tried, to the best of their abilities, to put those on the list of the Council charges, without even being asked to do so by the latter.

Finally, in the last category of charges were those Jews who had initially lived on their own savings or availed themselves of the hospitality of their Polish friends but at a certain moment had to apply for relief aid.

How many charges did the Relief Council for Jews have? This question is very difficult to answer as the RPŻ kept records of only one form of financial aid, the one they had to account for to the representatives of the government-in-exile (DR). But obviously other Council activities were of great significance to the Jewish population, too. Extent of those activities can be assessed only roughly, though.

Council activists believe that prior to the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, RPŻ aid, i.e. at least one of its forms (financial, legalization, housing, medical or aid given to children), was provided to several thousand people. Arczyński assesses their number at 50,000, Rek at 40,000.

As concerns Warsaw alone, the number of Jews seeking shelter outside ghetto at one time or another is estimated at 60,000 (such was also the tentative estimate Benedykt Hertz, a well-known writer and himself a former RPŻ charge, made in 1947). When the Warsaw Uprising broke out, about 30,000 Jews were hiding in the city according to Arciszewski, and about 20,000 according to Bartoszewski. It is impossible to establish how many of those people availed themselves of the RPŻ's help. Presumably many, especially as concerns the legalization of their documents.

As we have already said, the most visible form of aid, financial, was expressed in significantly more moderate numbers. According to various Council registers, this aid was provided:

in January-February 1943 to 200-300 people (in Warsaw)
in June 1943 to 1,000 people (in Warsaw)
in October 1943 to 1,000-1,500 people (also in the provinces)
in the fist half of 1944 to 3,000-4,000 people (also in the provinces).

As concerns Bund, until October 1943 it had been providing for mere "several hundred comrades." In Warsaw in March 1944, it had 2,000 charges against 3,000 looked after by the ŻKN. In May 1944, both these organizations supported 6,000 people. According to the ŻKN letter from December 1944, the number of Jews having received their relief aid prior to the Uprising went up to 6,500. Financial assistance offered by all three organizations (Bund, ŻKN and RPŻ) at the time, concerned about 12,000 people.

It is still more difficult to assess even roughly the number of Jews benefitting from the care of the Warsaw RPŻ after the collapse of the Uprising, when the rump Council functioned in Milanówek. Organizational chaos, uncertain future and the pace of political events were unpropitious for record keeping. We can only say that, because Jewish alliances had for quite some time not received money transfers from abroad, the Council's funds were allocated to all Jews who could be reached, no matter who had been taking care of them before.

Yet, there could not have possibly been too many of the Council charges. According to reports from the first days following the liberation, about as few as 2,700 people of Jewish origin had been hiding in Warsaw suburbs. On the left bank of the Vistula River, not yet liberated in December 1944 and therefore under the RPŻ's charge, there had been living no more than 1,500--1,800 people. Having obtained relatively large funds (14 million złoty within November and December), the Council earmarked them primarily to more substantial benefits provided to those people (which was necessary in the difficult post-Uprising circumstances and in view of a big rise in prices), the Council earmarked the remainder for the charges in the areas farther away from Warsaw, for example for labour camp prisoners, for Jewish children in evacuated orphanages, for ŻKN and Bund charges hiding in provincial villages, etc. It is not known how many people were able to live to see the end of the war owing to those last subsidies.

Raising Funds

Raising possibly largest funds was of basic and ever greater significance to the Council's performance nationwide, which was a result of the growing pauperization of both Jewish and Polish populations.

The Jews who were escaping ghetto in 1941 or who had from the beginning been living on the "Aryan" side, and who decided on that move usually had some prospect of survival: a chance to get a job (if their looks let them "pass" and if they were sufficiently assimilated to Polish society) or adequate savings. They could manage somehow, while the help they needed most involved the possession of "Aryan" documents, finding a job or accommodation, establishing contacts with the new environment, etc.

Seldom however were people living on their savings able to foresee how long these would have to last them and how steeply prices would rise. Financial reserves dwindled sooner than expected, whereas incidents of blackmail, of the finding out of secret flats, of arrest or death of the people who kept money could from day to day make death of starvation or of a lack of funds to pay for another shelter stare entire families in the face.

Equally difficult was the situation of people fleeing ghetto on the eve of or during the mass extermination campaign in the summer of 1942 or later. They were leaving ghetto penniless and without any prospects. They were not giving a thought to these when fleeing in deadly fear of extermination. But on the other side of the wall, a lack of financial resources meant a death sentence again.

At the same time, Polish population was becoming ever less in a position to come to their aid. In autumn 1939, Poles' earnings were frozen at the prewar level, to be stepped up only slightly in a later period. In 1942, average monthly wages of a blue-collar worker were 200 złoty. During the occupation, an office clerk made an average of 300 złoty--450 złoty a month, while pensions amounted to 150 złoty--200 złoty.

That certainly was not enough to live and maintain a family. People eked out their livelihood by smuggling, trading, baking cakes for restaurants and cafes and by doing various put-out jobs. Yet, even those extra incomes were not enough to check the growing poverty of the urban population. Only a small group of war profiteers did not have to fear poverty. Needless to say, Żegota activists did not belong to that group.

Meanwhile, market prices were rising by leaps and bounds. Taking July 1939 cost of living for 100, in February 1941 it was 425, and a year later--1,271. In 1943/1944, real wages of the Polish blue-collar worker fell to 8 per cent of the real prewar wages, while food rations did not exceed 16 per cent of the old consumption.

Rural areas were steadily falling into poverty, too, but at a slower pace. Larger estates got under German trusteeship. From the rest, peasant holdings included, Germans were appropriating increasingly large levies of grain and meat.

In those circumstances, more often than not those willing to help could not afford it. Especially that people in hiding diminished the possible helpers' chances to earn money. "The Jew is a little child who cannot take a step on its own," wrote Emanuel Ringelblum. "A little child" who had to be fed and whose various needs had to be fulfilled. That cost a lot, restricted one's freedom of movement and created additional complications.

The book Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej cites many relevant examples. For instance, Feliks Cywiński, who was hiding several Jews in his flat, writes:

"Where did we derive means of subsistence? It depended. At the beginning, Finkielsztein had some money. Initially, everyone of us had something valuable: a ring, a watch, some remnants of family jewels. [...] When this money ran out, I sold my house in Mickiewicza Street in Brwinów, and thus we pulled through to the Warsaw Uprising. Food had to be bought in small quantities lest anyone should wonder what a single man like me needed so much food for. I carried it in a brief-case, in tiny parcels, in pockets. It was necessary to bring successive portions several times a day. The purchase and delivery of food was very much time-consuming."

When one day Mr. Cywiński (himself a graduate engineer) found himself in difficulties, he went to an old regiment comrade of his. "Antoni Polny," Cywiński remembers, "had a basement upholstery shop in Mokotowska Street." As Cywiński's flat was no longer safe, Polny "agreed to close his shop for a time, under the pretext of overhauling it," and to take Jews to his place.

Another example: Mrs. Janina Szandorowska, whose colonel husband was abroad, was running a small, five-room pension in 11 Wielka Street. The pension was to provide for her and for her three children attending clandestine classes. However, as an increasing number of her guests were Jews (who often were penniless), the older children not only had to abandon studies to help their mother at home, but also to find a paid job. It was not the pension which provided for them, but they who provided for the pension.

Sylwia Rzeczycka, for her part, writes (p. 422):

"I know of Mrs. Ksenia Madej who took a Jewish child, Alicja Auerbach, under her roof. She kept her in hiding for six [?] years. Mrs. Madej could not practise as a nurse in her own flat, because the child had Semitic looks."

The examples of similar behaviour were many.

The RPŻ was aware of the general, increasingly difficult situation, of the need for ever greater assistance to both the Jews remaining in hiding and--sometimes--to their keepers. Therefore the Council recognized amassing as much money as possible to be its most important task.


According to preliminary assumptions, put forward by the Council's Interim Presidium in December 1942, the "funds' basis" were to be:

"a) budgetary funds allocated by the Government in London,"

b) "another, additional, source should be earmarked funds collected at home and abroad."

Collecting funds in the country was initially a major source of financing the TKPŻ aid campaign. The Council resolved to carry on with the money raising but as merely a supplementary activity. In practice, however, the Council gave it up whatsoever. The widespread impoverishment of the public did not promise gathering any more substantial sums this way. Instead, the people involved in helping Jews could only run into an even greater danger.

This way RPŻ became the organization engaged solely in sparing, not in raising, money. The funds at the Council's disposal were from the State Treasury. At times the Council received subsidies--directly or indirectly--from international Jewish organizations.

All money from the West, sent by the Government in London or, through its mediation, by international organizations, was air-dropped. The air drops were picked up by special groups of the Home Army whose liaison officers delivered them to Warsaw, to the AK section called "Imports." From there the money set aside for the Government Representation and for Jewish organizations was transferred to the Representation's Finance Department which spared it according to the list earlier radioed to them from London.

This apparently was a difficult and very dangerous route. Not all airplanes reached the appointed place, some of them had to turn back to their bases, others were downed by the Germans. Out of the nearly 860 flights to Poland, organized in wartime England, only about 480 managed to parachute the supplies they were carrying; 63 of them did not return to their home airports, while 11, out of 345, paratroopers dropped over Poland suffered death. Fifty per cent of the money transfers are supposed to have been seized by Germans, still before they fell into the hands of AK soldiers waiting for them.

And how much money did Germans seize later, already from Polish liaison officers and guards [?]? Data is not available. But considering the war conditions, no-one can doubt that both financial losses as well as casualties were suffered along the route between the place where the supplies were to be dropped and their addressee. All the same, the maintenance of this communications route was the necessary condition of the existence of a good many underground institutions and organizations.

The entire budget of, for example, the Representation, with the RPŻ funds being its integral part, was based on airdrop money. On the motion of the director of the Department of Internal Affairs, the Government Plenipotentiary decided how large those funds should be. The decision-makers took into consideration the current reserves which were usually affected by the more or less regular inflow of money from London. The Government Plenipotentiary did not devise a fixed budget plan for the Council. He made the amount of money available dependent on the possibilities and needs, and also on the creation by the RPŻ of an efficient distribution machinery.

Minutes of many meetings show the Council striving for increasingly big subsidies; the relevant letters and memorials addressed to the Government Representative and to London make up about 50 per cent of the correspondence preserved. The RPŻ fought a particularly fierce struggle for subsidies in the initial period of its existence, and then in the autumn of 1943 and in spring 1944.

When the Council was being set up, the Representation allocated to it 300,000 złoty for the months of January and February 1943. Nevertheless, already on 12 January the Council applied for an extra 150,000 złoty it needed to take care of 330 people in the Lublin province, and to launch more energetic legalization and accommodation campaigns. But before the Representation had time to grant the application and to pay the money (which took place in February), the developments in the ghetto had prompted the Council to lodge another appeal. The letter from the Council, dated 31 January, shed full light on the grim situation: the Nazi attempt at another extermination campaign on 18 January 1943 was so fiercely resisted by the Jews that it had to be abandoned. Germans were however likely to wage it again. Taking advantage of the temporary cessation, lots of people escaped from the ghetto every day. To help them survive, the Council asked for "an appropriation of at least 500,000 złoty for this purpose."

This time it took the Representation several weeks to consider the Council's request which was not fully granted, after all. In the letter dated 4 March, the Jewish Department advised the RPŻ that its "allocation [...] is hereby raised to 250,000 złoty a month."

The news, read out to the Council's meeting on 25 March 1943, aroused the indignation of Council members. On their behalf, Rek and Feiner prepared a new, very sharp memorandum in which they stated that an allocation so grossly incommensurate to the needs, made any concerted relief action impossible. If, as a consequence, "the usefulness of the Committee's [i.e. the Council's] existence is brought in question, the DR is the one to bear the whole blame for that."

Even though "Jan" began the next meeting (on 1 April 1943) with the declaration of increasing the Council's budget to 500,000 złoty a month (it was actually increased to 400,000 złoty a month), the memorandum was all the same read out, accepted and handed over to him as to the DR representative. Next, the Council sent to the Representation and to delegates of member-alliances sitting on the Political Understanding Committee (PKP) a statement of the necessary expenditures planned for March and April (to the tune of 600,000 złoty and 1 million złoty respectively) and of the allocations actually received. From that statement it resulted that the allocations covered the budget estimate in about a mere 40 per cent (cf. Annex, record 9).

While the Council and DR were arguing about money, on 19 April 1943 the Warsaw Ghetto revolted. The Government Representation responded to it immediately by (without being asked) granting a single, extra allocation of 500,000 złoty, on the distinct reservation, however, that the money should be spent solely on relief purposes.

At that time the Council did not confine itself to seeking more money from the Government Plenipotentiary alone. The Council realized that the Government Representation did not have any substantial funds to dip into. Only London had greater financial abilities. Therefore, while requesting an increase of several hundred thousand złoty, the Council applied at the same time to the minister of social welfare for a direct, continuous subsidy--not foreseen in the budget--to the tune of 6 million--8 million złoty a month.

In the first relevant memorandum from January 1943, the Council explained in detail why they were making such huge demands: "... to provide for [Jewish], usually orphaned children alone, who were upwards of 10,000 (i.e. 10 per cent of their previous number), assuming 500 złoty a month per child, it is necessary to secure about 5 million złoty a month." When all was said and done, the Council was to aid several hundred people nationwide. "Substantial and immediate help is indispensable [...] every delay of this action is tantamount to new casualties, to new graves of the murdered people." (Cf. Annex, record 6.)

Although the RPŻ did not overestimate the needs of the severely tried Jewish community, it is nevertheless doubtful whether it would have been able to satisfy those needs had it even had sufficient funds at its disposal. To take over and hide from Germans 10,000 children required a much better developed machine than the one the Council could build within a month it was set up. Even after several months of operation, such campaign would have stood no chance of succeeding. But they were not confronted with the challenge. The government did not provide aid generous enough, presumably by the same reason why it could not finance, for example, the campaign to rescue the 30,000 displaced children from the Zamość province. It was only the unorganized Polish population who tried somehow to help them.

The uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto induced the Council to intensify their endeavours. Referring to Prime Minister Sikorski's radio address on 5 May 1943, in which he appealed to society to come to the aid of Jews, seven days later, once again, the RPŻ requested funds "indispensable to the establishment of such relief centres, to assisting the victims in a regular fashion, not by fits and starts [...] to reaching every place [...] where it is still possible to deliver a man from criminals." The Government in London passed over also this request in silence. The Council had to face the fact that its budget would remain merely a part of the budget of the Government Representation.

In the next few months, cooperation between the Council and the Government Representation, at least as regards finance, developed. At the RPŻ's request, dated 10 May 1943 --this time with the total support of the DR Jewish Department--the Government Plenipotentiary allocated 150,000 złoty a month to district Councils in Cracow and Lwów, which was a great relief to the budget of the Warsaw Council. A certain (although initially insignificant) relief sent by Bund and the ŻKN helped meet the most urgent needs. It was only in the middle of August 1943 that the Council asked again for increased allocations (from 400,000 złoty to 750,000 złoty to Warsaw, and from 150,000 złoty to 250,000 złoty to the provinces.)

The moment however was not favourable as just then control of the Council spending revealed the use of the April allocation out of keeping with the Representation's instructions, i.e. not on charity alone. (The problem of the Council's position regarding the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto is more widely discussed in one of the following chapters.) That fact shook confidence of the Representation who itself was in acute financial difficulties at the time. Thus, it did not even respond to the Council's memorandum. The next letter, from 9 September 1943, fell through, too. In this one, the Council had substantiated its August demand with information about the development of its machinery.

Although the RPŻ was aware that its relations with the DR got cooler, it did not give up. Its third letter (dated 8 October) gave a broad outline of the dire situation of the remnants of the Jewish community in order to stress the urgency of their appeal to the Government Plenipotentiary to enable the Council to perform its duties. The situation was critical. "If we do not find adequate resources now, the whole relevant aid can prove belated and useless," wrote the Council. Moreover, Council records mention that at the same time it asked the WRN Wolność, Równość, Niepodległość [Liberty, Equality, Independence] and the SL Peasant Alliance to plead the Jewish cause.

Finally, on 28 October 1943 a meeting took place between representatives of the RPŻ and the Government Plenipotentiary, Jan Stanisław Jankowski. The others to attend were Director Leopold Rutkowski of the Department of Internal Affairs, and Witold Bieńkowski. Tadeusz Rek and Adolf Berman, who represented the Council, gave a precise outline of its difficult situation: because of a lack of funds it was unable to provide care for all those seeking help, meanwhile the allowance for the Council's old charges had to be reduced from 500 złoty to 300 złoty--350 złoty per person. The clothes of thousands of people were wearing off, which was particularly ominous in the face of the coming winter. Berman said that after the Germans had murdered 3 million Jews, "there remained hardly 250,000--300,000 [Jews] living in terrible conditions... The Council however offered help to no more than 1,000--1,500 people."

After a long discussion on Żegota's various problems, Janicki increased the Council's budget to 750,000 złoty in November and December, and to 1 million złoty as of January 1944. He announced moreover that, through the mediation of the emigre government, the International Union of Jews in America had contributed, without indicating any specific addressee, U.S. $25,000, out of which however it had assigned $2,000 to the peasants displaced from the Lublin province, and $23,000 to the Jews in hiding on the "Aryan" side. The Government Plenipotentiary resolved to transfer these $23,000 to the Council.

This way RPŻ not only got an increase in its regular allocation but also a considerable single shot of cash. Reporting on the course of the meeting to a Council meeting, Berman said, "As regards our financial position, the Council has reached a turning-point. Now it shall be able to work as it had wanted to work from the very beginning."

The Council Presidium arranged in detail for the distribution of the amounts obtained, planning expenditures for the next three months. The increased allocations from the Government Representation, the appropriation of the extra pay and the payments promised by Bund and the ŻKN made together more than 5 million złoty which they decided to pay to their charges throughout November and December 1943 and January 1944. The Council resolved to take care of all new people in need, to grant a 200 złoty winter extra to all charges, both the old and the new ones, and to keep the basic allowance to the tune of 500 złoty per person.

In practice however, the Council did not succeed in providing help to all those in need: although the funds available allowed them to raise the number of the Council's charges to 3,500, it turned out that the number of the needy was larger than that. It is difficult to establish how many persons did not enlist aid as some Council records mention 500 and others--1,000 people.

Still, that relative freedom of action lasted through January, then, all of a sudden, it stopped. Upon exhausting the extraordinary grant, the Council's budget was reduced from 2 million złoty to 1,3 million złoty. Again, the RPŻ cut the allowances, this time by 20 per cent, it restricted every other spending, and, again, applied to the Government Representation for increasing its allowance to 2 million złoty a month and for an extra, single allowance to the amount of 350,000 złoty to pay off the arrears.

Yet, the Government Representation's financial condition did not allow for such an increase. To make things worse, Bund and ŻKN, who had for a time not received any foreign transfers, announced payment cuts. In March 1944, only Bund paid its contribution, after all. The Government Representation was advised that allowances for the Council charges were reduced by another 20 per cent.

The situation was made somewhat less painful by the seasonal drop in "free-market" prices: compared to April 1943, prices for bread, flour and cereals fell 44 per cent, and for meat and fat by 10 per cent. This fact notwithstanding, the Council and Jewish organizations found themselves in a very inauspicious situation. Bieńkowski, who comprehended the seriousness of the situation, became very active at the time, sending one memorandum after another to his superiors in the DR. Other Representation employees and AK activists (e.g. Aleksander Kamiński, editor of Biuletyn Informacyjny) also tried to raise money for the "Jewish section."

At long last, on 5 April 1944, the Government Plenipotentiary received Council representatives (this time Feiner and Arczyński). When reporting on that meeting to the other Presidium members, Arczyński said that the "DR sees very clearly the needs of the Council, and will fill them as much as the resources at the Representation's disposal will allow it." His comforting view on the situation was probably based on the fact that the Council was granted an extra allowance of 500,000 złoty and promised larger grants in the next months to come.

Yet, the promise was not carried out either in May or, as it seems, in June. There is no record saying that the grant was obtained. On the other hand, on 24 June 1944 the Council asked to be heard by the Government Plenipotentiary whom they wanted to brief, among other things, "on the Council's disastrous finances and on its urgent needs in this regard."

It is not known whether the relevant meeting took place, but in July, the Council's allowance was increased to 2 million złoty a month. The Council received moreover a single grant to the amount of 3 million złoty. That sum probably was the first instalment of a larger subsidy as in its telegram from 19 July the Government in London instructed the DR to pay the Council U.S. $95,000 (about 9 million złoty) transferred by Joint, and in the next telegram, dated 27 July, to hand over U.S. $50,000 appropriated to the RPŻ from the Polish state budget in virtue of the specific resolution of the Council for the Rescue of the Jewish Population in Poland (Rada do Spraw Ratowania Ludności Żydowskiej w Polsce). Yet, the Council had not managed to collect even that first instalment before the Warsaw Uprising broke out.

Needless to say, in the period between August and October 1944, the RPŻ did not obtain any grant. When it undertook its activities anew in Milanówek, it received from the DR the November instalment plus the back payments for the past three months, i.e. a joint amount of 8 million złoty. In the next month, because the Council had insisted on it, together with the December payment, the Council received also a subsidy for two months in advance (till February inclusive), i.e. 6 million złoty.

These payments notwithstanding, in its telegram from 4 December, the Government in London ordered to remit to the RPŻ U.S. $100,000 from "American Jewish organizations." That sum was to be allocated to the Cracow Council as to the one functioning in the largest urban centre.

To those $100,000, apparently a part of the summer subsidy was added, because already at the beginning of January 1945 the Cracow Council was advised that it was granted a total sum of $160,000. The High Council sent a distribution list for this sum from Milanówek to Cracow on 16 January. Yet, from Arczyński's account it results that the money was not withdrawn.

Between July 1943 and June 1944, ŻKN and Bund, too, replenished the Council's budget. The latter two organizations were among the beneficiaries of foreign aid. The money came from international political and civic Jewish organizations, initially by the offices of the official Juedische Unterstuetzungstelle (JUS) in Cracow, later also through the Polish Government in London. From the end of 1942, the amount of transfers increased substantially. Inasmuch as the earlier correspondence of Jewish organizations mentions small sums (addressed to JUS), then, from October 1942 till August 1944, Polish commandoes parachuted from London carried about $420,000 (equivalent to ca 30 million złoty), and in a somewhat shorter period between July 1943 and July 1944- almost as much for the ŻKN.

This is from these sums that the Jewish organizations remitted (from July 1943 till June 1944) their monthly payments to the Council to the amount of 3.2 million złoty which made at the time about 20 per cent of the RPŻ's budget, and together with the single, direct foreign grant (in October 1943)--5.3 million złoty, i.e. about 33 per cent of the Councils' yearly budget. In the first six months of 1943 and in the third quarter of 1944, the Treasury was the only supplier of the Council funds, and in the last three months the Council gave up at least one third of what it had received to Jewish organizations.

Taking into consideration periods when state subsidies made 100 per cent, 67 per cent and 150 per cent of RPŻ's monthly budgets, one has to agree in general that the Council's two-year existence was more or less 90 per cent financed by the Polish government, and 10 per cent by Jewish organizations.


When reckoning the amounts of aid granted by international Jewish organizations to particular local organizations, it stands out that since autumn 1943, and especially since spring 1944, that aid became considerably more generous, and this not just in Poland, but in other countries under German occupation, as well. It was easier however to bear a helping hand to inhabitants of western than eastern or central Europe. For example, the underground Committee for the Defence of Jews in Belgium received considerable sums (running into millions of Belgian francs) from large banks of Brussels. The banks paid that money in form of loans world Jewish organizations were to pay back after the war.

Amounts Obtained by RPŻ (in thousand złoty)

Year Month DR grants Bund, ŻKN payments Foreign grants Total



DR grants

Bund, ŻKN


Foreign grants



















































































































Financial Aid: Token or Real?

At the outset of its operations, at the end of 1942, the RPŻ Presidium decided that the basic monthly allowance--if it were to bring any, even if modest, relief--should be no smaller than 500 złoty per person. To keep the benefits at a steady level, the Council tried not to accept too many charges.

In practice however, it wasn't always possible. In the most critical period of the Ghetto Uprising, the swelling wave of refugees and their dire predicament exerted so strong a pressure that the Council was unable too strictly to adhere to its own, earlier rules. Then, at the end of 1943, it took new charges, hoping for bigger allowances from the Government Representation, from the ŻKN Coordinating Commission and from Bund. This time, they miscalculated. In both those periods, the Council had to lower the rates.

How much could they be? If in June 1943 RPŻ had about a thousand charges in Warsaw, and from the Government Representation it received a mere 400,000 złoty (about 90 per cent, i.e. 360,000 złoty, it could assign to allowances), a simple calculation shows that an average rate could barely be 360 złoty. It could not be much more in the second critical moment, i.e. in the first half of 1944. To be sure, the monthly allowances RPŻ was granted at that time amounted to 1.2 million--2 million złoty, yet the number of its charges grew to 3,000--4,000. The average allowance could not therefore exceed 360--460 złoty a month.

Presumably even then, very low rates, under 400 złoty a month, were very rare, which was achieved in a very harsh way: through the reduction of the number of beneficiaries. In lean months, all those who fared somewhat better simply got nothing.

These suppositions find their confirmation in various references in records of the Council and of Jewish organizations. These mention the following amounts of benefits:

January-February 1943 500 złoty
June 1943 300--400 złoty
October 1943 250--500 złoty (sometimes 500--1,500 złoty)
November 1943 500--700 złoty (incl. 200 złoty winter allowance)
February 1944 400--500 złoty
March 1944 350--400 złoty
May 1944 500 złoty

The above data are clearly very much incomplete; they allow for only a very general discernment, at best. Fortunately, a recently found document throws much more light on the question of relief, even though it concerns only one RPŻ section, that of "Felicja" (Maurycy Herling-Grudziński).
This document is the financial statement about six months of activities he submitted to the RPŻ Audit Commission in June 1944 (see Annex, record 31). In it, Herling-Grudziński reported every payment made between December 1943 through May 1944. The rows of numbers beside particular names mark the limits of relief and reveal the "policy" towards charges in the periods when scarcity of financial resources forced the section to differentiate between the rates, to lower them or even to stop payment of some of the allowances.

Along with the financial statement, preserved have also been the receipts by "Felicja's" charges. Sometimes these receipts show signs of corrections, unfortunately always the same: the original, bigger sums put down by beneficiaries are crossed out to be replaced by smaller ones; usually this is number 5 (meaning 500) being replaced by 4 or 3.

These corrected sums point at the same time to the circuitous course the receipts themselves took. There is no question that the receipts were written out by the charges themselves who, because of health, "bad looks," etc., could not come to take their money in person (had they taken the money personally, they would have entered the correct sum straight away). They thus signed their receipts (usually predating the payment itself) in advance and sent them by the kind offices of their friends, patrons or other charges. They put down "fives," because those were probably the amounts they had originally been promised. What disappointments, what new difficulties must have underlain these "corrected" sums!

The table below delivers the summary statement about the allowances paid by Herling-Grudziński. Disparities among the allowances could be quite substantial, although extreme (the biggest and the smallest) cases were rather unusual. As a rule, the most generous allowances were granted to children who needed care, more frequent change of clothes which they were outgrowing, and better nourishment. All the same, most common were payments to the tune of 500 złoty, even though in the lean months of February, March and April 1944, 400 złoty allowances prevailed. By and large, in the "Felicja" section, the average payment was 428 złoty--522 złoty a month, which in the light of the figures referred to above, was a "decent" average.

"Felicja's" Charges and Allowances Paid to Them
(a list based on Herling-Grudziński's financial statement)





(in zloty)


Allowances paid (in zloty)



























































What however was the real value of those "decent" and especially of the "low" averages? To what degree were they a real relief, and to what degree were they only a "token help," to use the expression oft repeated in the Council's letters to the Government Representation?

It is very difficult to answer this question. The 500 złoty allowance was enough for 2 kg of black-market butter or lard, or 3 kg--4 kg of pork or 5 kg--6 kg of sugar, which were unavailable at their official prices. Five hundred złoty could not buy anything more than that. At the same time, compared to the purchasing power of the civil servant (see p. 6f), the allowance beneficiary was better off. The same allowance was two--three times bigger than the average pension!

Yet, such comparisons do not show anything. No pensioner would have survived the occupation in Poland without a help from his family or without some additional earnings. On the other hand, to the overwhelming majority of Polish families, too, butter, meat or sugar were luxury goods they afforded (and this in tiny quantities) only on holidays or which they bought only for the sick and for little children. The products like these were effectively supplanted on the adults' menu by saccharine, flour meals, cereals and potatoes, butter was replaced by various spreads made by every family mainly of pumpkin or sugar beets. It was easier to squeeze all those meals (just as ersatz tea and coffee) into the occupation budgets.

As yet no study has been carried out which would allow to determine the costs of living in those years. Ludwik Landau in his book Ruch cen w Warszawie od października 1939 r. do października 1941 tried to answer this question with regard to the earlier years of 1939--1941. According to his calculations (Table V, p. 138), the monthly costs of living of a working-class family of four were as follows:

1939 July 120 złoty; for food alone 66 złoty
1939 October 337 złoty; for food alone 264 złoty
1941 October 1,167 złoty; for food alone 930 złoty

Table C in Landau's book (p. 148), covering "monthly norms of food intake for a four-member working-class family [...] from September 1940," and Table IV (pp. 134--137) which quotes prices of particular groceries in the years 1939--1941, allow to determine approximately what part of monthly food expenditures (given the low level of consumption) was in 1941 assigned to three basic groups of groceries. And thus

group I: bread, flour and cereals made up 43 per cent of the cost of food,
group II: potatoes, beet roots and cabbage--32 per cent,
group III: meat, fats, milk and eggs--25 per cent.

The list Czesław Madajczyk draws up in his Polityka III Rzeszy w okupowanej Polsce (vol. I, p. 607) lets us follow further increases in food prices (until April 1944). Taking the Landau-given sum of 930 złoty from 1941 as the point of departure, and multiplying each of its component groups by the relevant indices, we arrive at the following costs of food:

Four-member family One person
1943 April 2,080 złoty 520 złoty
September 1,720 złoty 430 złoty
1944 April 1,800 złoty 450 złoty
December 6,000 złoty 1,500 złoty

The above figures are, needless to say, only a very rough estimate; they take into consideration, although in a very simplified manner, food rations as well. Nevertheless, their quantities give us some discernment as to the extent to which RPŻ allowances enabled the Jews in hiding to satisfy their basic needs.
These figures indicate that the full rate could be enough for modest meals, provided that the ghetto refugee did not live on his own but ran a house together with others, for example with the family who were sheltering him/her. Every lowering of the monthly allowance threw the minimum for survival out of balance. Besides, even the full allowance wasn't enough to buy him/her clothes, shoes, etc. Housing rent was often a problem, too.

The Council tried to make up for the low rates enabling its charges to use soup-kitchens run by the Central Council for Social Aid (Rada Główna Opiekuńcza, RGO) or civic and vocational organizations. Sometimes the Council, too, paid extra allowances to repair or buy clothes (e.g. the winter allowance in November 1943). Given these additional advantages, charges could save some small money to pay the rent (which, as indicated by many examples quoted here, they were often released of). Sometimes they could earn the necessary money themselves, for example by doing a secret put-out job if a friend or landlord/landlady agreed to sell the respective products as his/her own. In particularly difficult cases, the Council provided additional financial aid.

Taking it all in all, allowances granted by the RPŻ, as long as they did not drop below 300 złoty--350 złoty, constituted not just a "token aid," as the Council (presumably for tactical reasons) described them in its petitions, but provided a real livelihood for the Jews in hiding. This is confirmed in the account by Piotr Rudnicki who harboured three men of Jewish origin: Dr. Maksymilian Klawier, Dr. Bolesław Raszkes and Kazimierz Libin. "The piling up organizational problems ultimately made me establish contact with one of the doctors in the neighbourhood (Dr. Tadeusz Stępniewski) in whose place people began to cook meals and in various ways help me in providing food. The same doctor enlisted financial aid (pretty modest, after all is said and done) for the people hiding in my place. The donors were the underground Jewish Committee (associated with the Government Representation). That money was hardly enough to provide first for two, then for three persons," Rudnicki writes.

Well, the money was "hardly enough," but "enough" after all.

Zofia Rudnicka, head of the Council's office, who distributed money among several charges, held a similar opinion on the effectiveness of the RPŻ relief. According to her, 500 złoty a month was both very little and very much: enough for the most frugal living, but it did let one to survive, after all.

Fund Management-Audit Commission

By what way did the money allocated to the Council reach its representatives, and how did they organize this money's further distribution? Involved were very large sums (sometimes not even in złoty but U.S. dollars ). In case of a search--either at home or in the street--it would be impossible to prove neither the legal source of the money or its private appropriation (even if by businesses and the like). Money therefore constituted a threat almost as great as, for instance, the underground press, and amassing and carrying it was a fearsome responsibility, requiring strict precaution.

As was said above, the amount of the monthly allowance for the RPŻ was decided by the Government Plenipotentiary who consulted the director of the Department of Internal Affairs on that matter. The Department transferred the allocated sums to the DR's Jewish Department, and this one passed it on to the Council. Money was usually delivered directly to the Council's meeting by Jewish Department workers or members of the RPŻ Presidium or office. Sometimes money was delivered to Żegota premises where it was kept in special hiding places (in the floor, in tables with double tops, in picture frames, arm-chairs, etc.). and from where it was doled out according to the distribution list agreed upon earlier.

The techniques of transporting money differed, usually every "deliveryman" had worked out his/her own. They avoided brief- and suitcases, even though banknotes for sums of several hundred thousand złoty made big bundles. Zofia Rudnicka and Janina Raabe-Wąsowicz liked to place them between the layers of their double-bottomed bags or baskets, or in an ordinary bag under a layer of fruit and vegetables. Władysław Bartoszewski preferred to make them up into tight bundles which he next wrapped "casually" in a newspaper.

Yet, when the allowance sums increased to 1 million--2 million złoty, such methods proved inadequate. Rudnicka resorted then to the stratagem learnt, in part, from female smugglers: Bogna Domańska, an employee of DR's Jewish Department, in her flat wrapped the money round Rudnicka, and then bandaged her tightly. An ample dress or coat blurred Ms Rudnicka's loss of shape. Although the money and bandages restricted her movement, still she was able to carry the whole sum at one stroke, avoiding additional, dangerous walks across the town.

Persons carrying larger sums of money were secured by one or two associates. Wanda Muszyńska, the often quoted here liaison officer of the DR's Jewish Department, frequently did the "security job." On such occasions, she walked in front and, if she noticed anything alarming, she "clutched at a sock."

Despite very strict security measures, in spring 1944, the wrapped in dollars Rudnicka and the securing her Feiner got caught in a German round-up. The presence of mind saved them. They jumped on a rickshaw and told its driver to pedal straight onto the Germans lining the street. They pretended being drunk, laughed loud, shouting something in German (they both knew the language well) and waving at the uniformed guards. The confused Germans stepped aside letting them go by.

During the entire period of the RPŻ's operations, not one transport of the money allocated to it got lost. Besides good organization, Żegota workers had a proverbial bit of luck.


The money delivered to the Council meeting was divided among members, taking the earlier established needs into consideration. A part of the subsidy was meant to pay the necessary administration costs and those of the activities managed centrally. Below is the example of the Council's expenditures in the fourth quarter of 1943, illustrating the proportions of sums assigned to particular kinds of relief:

1. administration and premises 29,700 złoty= 0.75% of overall budget
2. legalization 134,500 złoty= 3.45% of overall budget
3. kindergarten (Children's Dep) 238,000 złoty= 6.00% of overall budget
4. medical assist. 10,000 złoty= 0.25% of overall budget
5. grants to the provinces 767,744 złoty=19.25% of overall budget
6. grants to Warsaw 2,800,022 złoty=70.00% of overall budget
7. losses 11,500 złoty= 0.30% of overall budget
total: 3,991,466 złoty

The shortcoming of the RPŻ's management was the absence of any reserves. Once it distributed the money it had acquired, the Council usually remained penniless. Although at Council meetings, it was often submitted that an emergency fund should be established, the Council never managed to save enough money for the purpose as the needs always exceeded the subsidies.

To begin with, all the hiding Jews--both those asking for an allowance personally and those registered, sometimes even without their knowledge, by strangers--could be placed on the list of charges only after the appropriate section of the RPŻ had made a detailed inquiry about them. The RPŻ had gathered information on them, explored their way of living, verified whether their material situation was really so bad that they needed help.

Under the German occupation to carry out such inquiries usually cost a great deal of trouble whereas it not always could bring to light all the circumstances speaking for or against granting aid to someone. However, there was no other way to do it. Meanwhile information thus gathered often allowed for a proper selection of new charges.

In the "Felicja" section for example, as an outcome of such selection, more than one third of allowance-seekers were rejected. In reports he submitted to the Council Presidium, Grudziński mentioned results of the interviews and talks with those interested: the Pruders gave up, the Ettingers and the Frejmans drew allowance from another section. To some people recommended by friends or associates the section did not propose anything because they managed somehow on their own. Dr. Mateusz (or actually Matys) Berłowicz was among the latter. Although his and his family's names are on "Felicja's" list (see Annex, record 31, entries 336--338), there are no payments to them noted down. Already after the war, in 1976, Dr. Berłowicz admitted that the interviewers had been right: he had had reserves from before the war, he had been living with the family of the pre-war Polish policeman-friend, Wacław Nowiński, and had not even heard either about the Council's or "Felicja's" existence. Had an RPŻ's representative offered him any financial assistance, he would have refused it, knowing that there were people in a situation more difficult than his.

Interviews were the first sieve to sift out some of the potential relief beneficiaries. The approval by the Council (or rather its Audit Commission) of new charges and of the amount of aid to be provided to them was the second sieve. The latter limited the discretion of local activists of the leading parties forming the Council and of the heads of the sections subsidized in virtue of so-called "wild lists" [submitted and maintained independently from organisations forming RPŻ]. Herling-Grudziński found those regulations too strict and tried to modify them:

"I reiterate the reservations I voiced in my previous statement," he wrote to the Council in February 1944. "A number of cases require an individual treatment and an increase in the average allowance [...] I will report on these cases separately, as I have already mentioned, and will gain your approval of the rise or you will assign a certain extra sum, not mentioned on the list, and entitle me to decide how to dispose of it. Needless to say, on the payroll, these rises will be indicated together with a short explanation of their reasons."

Yet, the Council did not give "Felicja" so much discretion, which--we may guess--provoked the vigorous head of the section, very much taken up with his duties, to adopt special tactics in the more prosperous months, for example in May. In that month the number of increased allowances did not grow much. It was however the month when very many back payments, for April and even March, were made. This way particular persons received 1,000 złoty or even 1,500 złoty. This was nevertheless only a partial solution as there was no way how to pay anything retroactively to those who had got their reliefs regularly, month after month.

Grudziński notified the Council of new charges every month, sending the lists of their names together with his statements through "Ewa" (Janina Raabe-Wąsowicz). The lists gave the people's real names which the charges no longer used. In the case of those few who continued to live under their real names, Grudziński omitted them, stating that in the oral statement he would make good the omission.

Until the new people were accepted by the Council Presidium, Grudziński had treated them as admitted "conditionally," with no right to relief. This notwithstanding, when he deemed it urgent or when the Council did not respond promptly, he himself decided on allowances, which sometimes were big (e.g. those paid to Krysia, entry 2 in "Felicja's" statement concerning January and February 1944).


When distributing the subsidies obtained from the Government Representation in a given month, the Council took into consideration the number of particular sections' approved charges. The allocated sums were collected by section heads or female liaisons who delivered the money to representatives of the "wild lists" or associations cooperating with the Council. From them, sometimes directly and sometimes through two--three intermediaries, the money went to addressees. The latter wrote a receipt which was possibly small and inconspicuous, and where, for the sake of secrecy, the respective dates were ten years back-dated while sums were divided by one hundred (thus they amounted to 4, 5 or 10 złoty), although sometimes people put down the correct dates and sums automatically. Recipients signed their receipts in different ways, conventionally, usually with their first names alone or, more or less illegibly, with the family names they were not using at the moment.

Section heads used those receipts to prepare statements which helped them settle accounts with the Council Presidium, and which they submitted to the RPŻ's Audit Commission.

From time to time, the rules how to settle accounts were amended to make these rules less rigorous. And thus, in the entire 1943, the Audit Commission required that all sections should submit their financial statements together with receipts. "Upon inspection, the Audit Commission destroys the receipts and accepts the detailed report by putting the Commission members' names below its text," Arczyński, the Council's treasurer, advised Henryk Woliński, head of an "AK cell," in December 1943 (cf. Annex, record 23). The accepted report was sent back to the organization concerned, as a document "for the future."

At the beginning of 1944 however, at the request of the Audit Commission, the Council changed the system of auditing. Once he closed and signed the list of recipients, the head of the section was supposed to destroy the receipts. The Commission was to audit only the lists prepared in that way.

Changed were also other elements of the Council's finance, for example the frequency of the Audit Commission inspections. Inasmuch as in the already mentioned December 1943 letter to Woliński, Arczyński wrote about monthly statements, in May 1944 he instructed Grudziński to prepare a statement "for the past months," i.e. in that particular case for the past six months (cf. Annex, record 29).

At several meetings the Council discussed whether to instruct sections to ask their charges "this once" to sign the receipts with their "actual" names, meaning the names they were currently using. That would allow the Council to ascertain whether no-one was taking money from several sections at the same time. Still, even though the Council were very keen to prevent fraud, at the last moment they flinched from such a risky directive.

All the relevant indecisions and changes in the principles of book-keeping resulted from the Council's dilemma whether to establish an efficient auditing system, which required all sections to turn up accurate records, or to ensure maximum security to the charges through, among other things, covering up any traces of their existence, including the evidence of any organized aid provided to them.


As concerns "Felicja's" section, to the end did Herling-Grudziński keep to the strictest rules. His section received from 40,000 złoty to 150,000 złoty, which usually wasn't enough for all people entitled to relief aid. The ultimate decision rested with Grudziński. Maybe he acted in consultation with the heads of groups, at least of the bigger ones. Everyone of them drew the sum allotted to his charges. He accounted for that money later, by producing their receipts.

After all is said and done, it is too much to call these crumpled up scraps of paper, more often than not with the writing blurred, "receipts." They evidently were passed on from one person to another. The mere first names put on the receipts often recur. If not the index number Grudziński later gave them, it would be impossible to establish which Jerzy, Pinkus, Estera or Anna signed them.

On the basis of such "vouchers" like these it was difficult to write monthly or periodical accounts. And still, just these receipts, with first names only as signatures and concerning just one month, presumably caused the least inconvenience of all. Herling-Grudziński's archives contain plenty of, easier to transport, joint receipts: one scrap of paper, a few centimetres long, acknowledges the receipt of an allowance for a family of five or for three--four people of different names who for one reason or another drew it together in a given month, and whose index numbers do not always adjoin. There are also receipts there which concern two--three months allowances. In such situation, wasn't it easy to overlook, say, an April payment the receipt of which was enclosed with the May files?

Grudziński, like the other section heads, had to give many hours of his time in order to sort through this muddle of information and to produce a fair, convincing and true picture of the situation. To make things worse, he did not get those scanty receipts on delivery. From various notes in "Felicja's" files it results that group heads brought receipts in batches, that sometimes it took him weeks to get all the receipts from them. When all is said and done, the group heads met obstacles, too: they not always reached their charges in person, they might, for security reasons, reduce their contacts with them to the minimum. In those circumstances, even a slight misunderstanding, being a few minutes late to a meeting, anyone's illness, even if brief, could create difficulties. Was everyone of the group heads sure at the time that to file a 500 złoty receipt was worth the imminent risk? Didn't many of them treat that as a needless formality?

That was however what Grudziński was obliged to do. Besides, he wanted to collect receipts not just to assess the performance of the network he had set up, not just to settle accounts with the Council satisfactorily, but also to provide evidence in the postwar future. He wanted to be always able to prove that he took money not for himself but for the others. That was why, according to his family, with great care he buried the receipts under the cellar of his house in the Boernerowo (the present Bemowo) suburb where they survived the last part of the war.

Together with the receipts Grudziński buried the already mentioned statement which included the first and family names of 494 people, and the precise sums of monthly allowances paid in the period between December 1943 and May 1944 (Annex, record 31, see also illustration 47). The statement was attested by the RPŻ's Audit Commission, i.e. by Tadeusz Rek and Leon Feiner, on 14 June 1944.

The RPŻ chairman, "Trojan," too, adhered to the Council rules of keeping and working on files. He collected receipts and kept a detailed record of payments. Halina Grobelna remembers the audits carried out by two authorized Council members (of whom she knew only Feiner). "After the audit, receipts went to the archives in comrade Władysław Lizuraj's Boernerowo place. When we met after the war, I asked him about our archives. He told me that before the rising he had buried all the records in his cellar. Then, Germans deported him. When he returned, he couldn't find the records because the house had been destroyed."

Apparently, RPŻ activists found the out-of-the-way Bemowo to be relatively safe. It is a pity that this time hopes failed and that the files of the Council's largest section, run by the PPS-WRN, got lost. It is an irretrievable loss from the point of view of the history of the Council and the whole campaign of relief for Jews.

This loss is all the greater that in all likelihood those archives contained also the children's department's financial records: receipts signed by the children themselves or their foster-parents, and the lists of all those little children and teenagers for whom the Council provided. Mrs. Irena Sendler was the one to draw their allowances from Grobelny and to him she accounted for that money.


The financial rules of the RPŻ's Jewish sections were different. Helena Merenholc, who closely cooperated with the Bermans, and especially with Mrs. "Basia" Temkin-Berman, and who headed a big relief group of the ŻKN, says that their charges acknowledged the receipt of money only in the initial period. As early as in summer or autumn 1943, the ŻKN relinquished the receipts, finding carrying and compiling them dangerous. Group heads confined themselves to supplying lists of payments. But in time, even this was abandoned.

With respect to Merenholc herself, the tragic night she passed through at the end of 1943 or at the beginning of 1944 was decisive. She was using "Aryan" papers and hiring a room in the house in 58, 6th August St. The local caretaker, his son and daughter-in-law were guilty of the death of many Jews. Pani Helena herself informed the relevant sections of the Government representation against them. Her information must have been confirmed by other sources as after some time punishment was meted out: all three of them were shot. Only a few hours later Gestapo conducted an exhaustive search of the premises. Merenholc kept plenty of incriminating records in her place: in the specially hollowed cactus shelf--Kennkarten ready to use, and questionnaires and pictures for new ones, and in a drawer--lists of several hundred names of people to whom allowances were paid! When she heard battering at the door, horror-stricken she hid quickly all the documents under her dress and went to open the door, hoping that the Germans would not search the person to do it. She proved to be right. Although two blows to the head muddled her so powerfully that she fell on the floor, but when she recovered her senses, the Germans were already in the rooms of the flat. They ransacked the place, however not as sweepingly as they usually did it as this time they were interested primarily in men. They dragged several out of neighbouring flats and took them away.

The shock she experienced and also the probability of disaster of just incalculable consequences were both so great that Merenholc refused Berman point-blank to make or to keep records any more. Even though they mentioned only the "prewar" names, no longer used, she was not sure whether she would stand a possible interrogation by Gestapo and would not reveal the current names. The lists meant a death sentence to herself, too.

From that day she memorized everything, both names and addresses. Her method became a standard rule, accepted by neighbouring sections. They tried to prevent "double takes" by direct talks with other group heads. Ms Merenholc examined the details of the lists of charges she memorized with either Mrs. "Basia" Berman or Mrs. Klementyna Krymek. She carefully watched the work of liaison officers, which let her observe one young "deliveryman" draw money for the people who were already dead. Although there could be more people like him, in Merenholc's circle the prevalent opinion was that to tolerate them was a lesser evil than to magnify the danger to both the guardians as well as the charges.

However, not all ŻKN groups worked that way. In her diary from the end of the occupation, Mrs. "Basia" Berman mentions, among other things, "temporary receipts signed by the guardians, next replaced by authentic receipts," which indicates a procedure identical to that adopted by the Herling-Grudziński section. This is confirmed by Sylwia Rzeczycka who writes, "Mrs. Berman handed a large sum of money together with the old and new names of Jews plus their addresses to me. I carried money to them and, following the instructions, demanded receipts signed with their real (Jewish) names. Then, I delivered the receipts back to Mrs. Berman."

Zofia Rudnicka, too, remembers it very well that both Berman and Feiner settled accounts with the Council Presidium just like any other section head did, i.e. by producing the payment sheet. She never heard that the Audit Commission might excuse them, for example, from showing receipts at the time when the others were expected to do so.

This means that the ŻKN either adhered to the strict rules when distributing the Council subsidies and was less rigorous when deploying its own resources or it excused from record keeping groups particularly reliable or those operating in especially difficult conditions.

The situation in Bund was probably more or less the same. However, not one Bund leadership member capable of telling us about their style of work at the time is living in Poland. The book by Vladka Meed, Feiner's liaison, oft-mentioned here, provides no information on this subject.

Still, only representatives of the Jewish community for whom the money was meant, could afford a more lenient money management. Polish organizations had to obey the utmost rigour, they had to see to it that allowances should reach their Jewish addressees and that these should be absolutely--considering the occupation circumstances--sure that they got as much money as was allotted to them, and that no-one went shares in that allotment with them. This does not mean, of course, that all sections were as meticulous in record keeping as Herling-Grudziński. Perhaps the style of work of certain groups was, by various reasons, closer to the ways of the ŻKN groups described here. Those however were exceptional cases. Both from the Council's materials preserved and from the memories of its Warsaw activists it results that, as a rule, they were very rigorously following the RPŻ instructions regarding the audit.

"Getting receipts clearly was in my own interest," observed Mrs. Irena Sendler years later. "Large sums of money passed through my hands. I felt relief when I could prove that it went to those people for whom it was meant."

It is worth adding here that no RPŻ section got itself into trouble because of record keeping.


Summing up, it was only in the initial period when section workers submitted reports and receipts to the Audit Commission. Later, the Commission was given reports alone. Didn't it reduce the reliability of accounts considerably? After all, couldn't receipts act as evidence, even if not quite regular?

It seems that they were of primary importance first and foremost to the section head. It is only to him that those small scraps of paper could "tell" anything: even the signatories' handwriting, every month the same, the arrangement of first names intelligible only to him, or some other details insignificant to anybody else were "telling" to him. Through the receipts, every month he had contact with the same people; some of them he knew personally, the others he knew by name or from questionnaires. If anything aroused his suspicions, he was able--if only sporadically and on a small scale--to organize an extra inspection, closer monitoring or a new questionnaire.

The Audit Commission, supposed to receive thousands of receipts, could not possibly test the authenticity of the signatures. In order not to adhere to the fiction, the section heads were saddled with the recognition of receipts. It was the section heads whose signatures warranted for the data they put into their reports precisely on the basis of those receipts. Strong sense of responsibility and innate honesty were presumed to be their main characteristics.

In this regard, in all RPŻ sections, the issue of confidence played a major role, only--this is important--at a different level and to a considerably smaller extent. In the ŻKN, and perhaps also in Bund, everything relied on a blind confidence in everyone: in the charges (that they did not collect money from several sources) as well as in the group heads and liaison officers (that they would distribute money as required). RPŻ sections showed such confidence only in their heads, i.e. the well-tested social workers, appreciated in their circles who delegated them to this kind of work.

It turned out after all that two of them, Grobelny and Herling-Grudziński themselves (we do not know about the others) did not want to take advantage of such blind confidence. They tried to preserve both reports and receipts. Owing to the fact that at least one of them succeeded, it was possible to randomly do in the 1970s what the Audit Commission was unable to do under the occupation: to test the authenticity of at least some of the signatures.

Not all of Herling-Grudziński's charges survived the war, some of them scattered in the world, others remained in Poland but under their new names which made establishing any contact with them impossible. However, all those we managed to reach have unhesitatingly confirmed the authenticity of their signatures, affixed to the receipts from the 1940s. Suffice to compare the present signatures with those appearing on the receipts, to see that, despite changes due to the lapse of time, the handwriting is the same (cf. illust. 46).

About twenty entries in Herling-Grudziński's report were authenticated this way. There is no doubt that had the Audit Commission been able to currently validate documents in a similar fashion, it would have obtained positive results, and not just in the "Felicja" section alone. If however the Commission was unable to test the accuracy of the data produced by reports, what did its audit consist of?

From various references in the records preserved one can infer that the Commission was interested primarily in the amount of the allowances paid, especially those bigger than the average, and in the circumstances of the newly-accepted charges, checking--if possible--whether the latter did not collect money from other sections. The Commission, moreover, studied in detail the lists of allowances granted. On that occasion they could realize how much pushed for money particular relief teams were, which could have been of importance when granting new subsidies. Among the aims of the Commission's activities was also the uniformity of the finance policies carried out by particular sections of the Council.

The RPŻ made much of the Audit Commission's inspections. The Commission met more than twice a month. The Council's two deputy chairmen "Sławiński"--Rek and "Mikołaj" "Lasocki"--Feiner, lawyers and political activists of long experience, who themselves were heads of large RPŻ sections, served on the Commission.

Edelman met Feiner in a Lublin clinic at the beginning of 1945. Years later Edelman told Hanna Krall:

"Do you know what I remember best from that period?

"The death of Mikołaj. The one who sat on 'Żegota' (the Relief Council for Jews) as a representative of our underground.

"Mikołaj was in bed and died.

"He died, do you understand it? Simply, in hospital, in bed! The first man I knew who died without being killed. I visited him in hospital a day earlier, and he told me, 'Mr. Marek, if anything happened to me, here, under the pillow, I've got a copybook where everything is accounted for, to the last penny. They can ask about it, so remember that our books are balanced. We are even landed with some surplus money.'

"Do you know what it was?

"It was such a fat copybook with a black cover in which, throughout the war he was recording what we were spending dollars on. Those that were airlifted for us to buy weapons. There was still several dozen dollars left, and those too were noted down in that copybook."

During the occupation Feiner as a representative of the Bund leadership received airlift money not only to buy weapons but, with time, particularly since the spring of 1943, first and foremost to bring relief to the Jews in hiding. Additionally, which is generally known, he distributed RPŻ money; after the Warsaw Uprising, RPŻ money was probably the only money he could distribute. The fat copybook with a black cover could also describe the settlement of those subsidies.

Dying of cancer in a Lublin hospital, away from Nazi control and Nazi laws, the last RPŻ chairman thought about the definitive accounting for the public funds entrusted to him.

translated by Maria Chmielewska-Szlajferowa


The Third Reich's Nazi cold-blood, organized, savage mass murder of the Jewish population in all countries of conquered Europe, was the most tragic chapter of the history of World War II. About 6 million people were dragged from home and their quiet existence, humiliated and terrorized, denied the possibility to work and earn a living, starved in camps and ghettos, carried from a country to a country and from one place to another in conditions beyond human endurance, only to be driven to gas chambers in order "to solve the Jewish question finally."

Before the war, the concentration of Jews in Poland was Europe's most intense, and thus nearly a half (about 2.9 million) of those exterminated were Polish Jews. How many were saved? About 350,000 managed to survive (usually as deportees) in the Soviet Union. In the home-country, with or without the help of Poles (in partisan units, in labour camps, etc.) - between 80,000 and 120,000. The number of people who were hiding themselves in Warsaw, on account of their descent, at the time of the 1944 uprising, is estimated at about 20,000.

How small are these numbers compared to the number of the exterminated! Here, in Poland, survived every thirtieth Jew, at best. Including those who returned from the Soviet Union - every eighth. All together, 12 per cent of Polish Jewry were saved. In other European countries, the proportion of the saved Jews was different, amounting to 16 per cent - 25 per cent in Lithuania, Latvia, Yugoslavia and Greece, to 25 per cent - 50 per cent in the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, to 50 per cent - 60 per cent in Belgium and Rumania, to 78 per cent in France, to nearly 100 per cent in Bulgaria.

The possibility of saving them depended on many factors, the most significant ones being:

  • the geographic position (a possibility to escape and to reach a safe place),
  • the prewar number of Jews and the degree of their integration into the local population,
  • anti-Semitism (including the one before the war) of the local population,
  • the attitude of Germans towards the citizens of a given country: the degree of economic oppression, police surveillance and its intensity, political terror,
  • intensity of the policy of extermination of Jews,
  • kinds of repressive measures against attempts to save Jews.

    Denmark was in the best position to save Jews. Thanks to this position, she managed to save almost all (7,200) of her Jews. The position of central European countries, including Poland, was the least advantageous in this respect as they were either separated from the free world by hundreds of kilometres of the German territory or were dependent on Germany.

    The prewar numbers of Jews were another factor determining the percentage of people saved. The larger was the Jewish minority, the bigger were its relative losses. The hiding Jews had to mix with the "Aryan" population, to disappear among them. The excessive density of Jews inevitably attracted the attention of the occupation authorities. In Belgium half of the 72,000 Jews survived the war because they were mixed with the nearly 8 million Belgian population. In Poland, saving a half of the Jewish community, i.e. more than 1.5 million people, was out of the question.

    The anti-Semitism dating back to prewar years was an additional element making hiding and helping Jews difficult. Although no country in Europe was free of anti-Semitism, all the same in Poland - as was mentioned here several times - it was rife. It hindered flights from ghettos, it constituted a threat both to Jews and to those ready to assist them. In the memory of survivors it left traces that cannot be blotted out.

    How Germans treated the population of the conquered countries was of fundamental importance to the relief action. The assumptions of Germany's Jewish policy were everywhere the same: extermination. But their attitude to the remaining groups of population differed, which determined the fate of Jews directly or indirectly.

    According to Bohdan Wytwycky, an American historian of Ukrainian descent, the war Hitler declared on Poland on 1 September 1939, was not a regular war against another state and its army, it was not a war like the one the Nazis were to declare on France, Great Britain or the United States. Hitler's declaration of war on Poland was a declaration of war on the Polish people and Polish national character. That fact exerted a tremendous impact on the nature of the occupation in Poland, Wytwycky argues.

    It exerted an impact on the possibility of assisting Jews, too. The population deprived of any civic rights, pauperized, weighed down by terror, uncertain of their own future, had themselves to concentrate all their efforts in order to survive.

    To Jews living in utter misery in ghettos, the "Aryan" district seemed to be the land of peace and prosperity. Likewise, Poles, for example underground couriers, upon arrival at Paris, had an impression that they found themselves in a free world: theatres, cinemas, colleges were open, newspapers and books were coming out, radio programmes were broadcast... The strikingly less conspicuous presence of the German army and police made that impression even stronger. Historical studies confirm the couriers' impression: about 150,000 police, SS and Waffen SS men were stationed in Poland in 1944, against 12,000 men in France in 1943 (according to other sources, there were no more than 3,000 men; if so, their total number had to be smaller). From the fact that the population of France was 20 per cent and its territory 30 per cent larger, it results that the surveillance of Polish society was fifteen times as strict as on the Seine and the Loire. Therefore the situation like, for instance, at Chambon-sur-Lignon in southern France, famous for her assistance to Jews, was plainly impossible in Poland. In Chambon, with the population of 3,300, as many as 2,500 Jews found a temporary shelter. In Poland, a concentration of not hundreds but even several tens of Jews in a village would immediately attract attention of the ubiquitous German police.

    The obstinacy of the Nazi police in hunting up Jews depended in a large measure on their total number in a given country. In Poland, where this number was largest, it was the reason why they were doggedly hunted at every turn. Germany could desist from deporting Jews, for example, in Finland, where there were just 2,000 of them, or Norway, where there were only 1,700 Jewish residents, but the vaster was the number of the Jewish population, the more obstinately were they run after.

    Poland was the only country where to offer help to Jews was punishable by death. It is beyond doubt that east of Polish territories - in Lithuania, Byelarus, Ukraine and in the European parts of the Soviet Union, where the occupation regime was very cruel, too - the revealed cases of assistance to Jews resulted in the death penalties. Assisting Jews was treated as resistance to the policy of Germany. Yet, no genuine figures are available.

    In Western Europe crackdowns so strong were not a rule. Nevertheless history tells of the cases of people found guilty - usually of a large-scale relief campaign - having been sent to concentration camps from which, more often than not, they did not return.

    In Poland, such incidents seemed almost nothing out of the ordinary. The activities of Warsaw's central judicature contain evidence of more than 700 executions of people assisting Jews, and of those people's relatives. In fact there must have been more executions as surely not all of them were entered in the official court records. Simon Wiesenthal mentions 621 Polish families to have died for assisting Jews (maybe he means the same people, at least in part). The largest group murder took place in the village of Ciepielów near Radom, where 33 inhabitants, including 19 children, were burnt alive for trying to hide several Jews.

    Had Chambon been in Poland, the Germans who discovered a Jewish boarding-school in that village would have immediately searched the houses in the area, which they did not do in Chambon. In Poland, Germans would have killed not just the local pastor's cousin who organized the aid campaign, but at least a greater part of the village occupants as well as all the Jews in hiding.

    Due to the overwhelming presence of representatives of the German authorities and the severity of the punishment they inflicted, the terror of assisting Jews in Poland was enormous. Beside anti-Semitism, that terror must have been the main cause why the assistance actually offered to Jews was sparse.

    All the above-mentioned factors affecting the Jews' possibility to save themselves and the "Aryans'" possibility to aid them acted to Poland's disadvantage. This is why to compare the help offered in Poland to that in the West, without consideration for local conditions, is utterly wrong.

    Although the Relief Council for Jews functioned in very difficult conditions, it proved itself equal to the task. Needless to say, it was not the only underground organization in Europe to assist the Jewish population. Similar organizations operated in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The Western organizations were however different from the one in Poland. In the West, they were usually run by Jews themselves (therefore they were more like the ŻKN Jewish National Committee or Bund in their composition), aided by representatives of local "Aryan" population, in part by the Catholic or Protestant Church and by certain resistance units. They usually engaged in one sort of activity, be it care for Jewish children, arranging for the Jewish youth to illegally cross the border (Joop Westerweel of the Netherlands set up the most famous group of this kind), etc., or embarked on relevant local campaigns. Nowhere however did the political underground establish a relief organization like the RPŻ, which would rally as wide a range of alliances, cooperate with the central authorities, drawing on funds allocated by these authorities as well as the emigre government, and which would be, despite arrests, engaged in so many different activities for so long.

    On the Memorial Hill in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority set up in 1962 the Avenue of the Righteous Among Nations of the World. In this avenue people who helped rescuing Jews in Europe plant trees. As of 1 January 1997, among the 14,706 persons thus distinguished, 4,954 were Poles who made the largest national group of "planters."

    All members of the Council presidiums in Warsaw, Cracow and Lwów have their trees on the Memorial Hill. The Relief Council for Jews, Żegota, is one of the few organizations to have its tree there. Żegota's tree has grown very big by now.


    translated by Maria Chmielewska-Szlajferowa

    Copyright: Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation 2002-2003
    (transferred by the Batory Foundation In Warsaw)